Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Protecting Health from Climate Change

The WHO World Health Day is celebrated globally on 7 April each year. This year’s theme: ’Protecting Health from Climate Change.’

With its characteristic of small islands, Solomon Islands is already prone to many potential natural hazards and these are set to be emphasized by climate change.
From rainfall to mosquito breeding, drought to flood, sanitation and the spread of disease, the climate already affects our health in many different ways.
We already experiencing an increase in the frequency and intensity of cyclones throughout the country, and there are other links between health and climate that have an impact on people’s livelihoods. Severe flooding in the Guadalcanal plains sometimes limits food supply to Honiara. Coastal erosion and salt-water infiltration and intrusion in fresh-water aquifers and planting grounds in Ontong Java reduces people’s crop production, while the unusual high-tide/king-tides face by Artificial Islands and drought in the Reef Islands can lead to internal migration and the threat of conflict over land.
According to the Inter governmental Panel on Climate Change these sorts of impacts are those that are expected to worsen as a result of climate change.
The earth is warming, the warming is accelerating, and human actions are mostly to blame through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

If current warming trends remain uncontrolled, humanity will face more injury, disease and death related to natural disasters and heat waves. Food-borne, water-borne and vector-borne diseases will proliferate and more premature deaths will occur because of air pollution. Moreover, in many parts of the world, large populations will be displaced by rising seas and affected by drought and famine. As glaciers melt, the hydrological cycle shifts and the productivity of arable land changes. We are already able to measure some of these effects on health even now.
The health impacts of climate change will vary in different geographical locations. Initially, developing countries will be hardest hit and least able to cope, as the level of development, poverty, education, public health infrastructure, land-use practices and political structure all come into play. Solomon Islands Red Cross has developed a programme that prepares vulnerable communities for climate change. It concentrates on climate change and disaster risk reduction in the Solomon Islands and is supported by Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre (
www.climatecentre.org) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Suva, Fiji. Solomon Islands Red Cross also works with people in Guadalcanal and Malaita provinces on health activities through the Health Awareness Programme (HAP). The community-based project is run in partnership with the Ministry of Health and supported by AusAID through Australian Red Cross.
It aims to provide communities with the knowledge and skills to help them improve health and hygiene practices; from covering food and washing hands before eating, to draining stagnant pools of water and cleaning up the village. The programme also includes information about malaria, such as routes of transmission and the life cycle of the mosquito. First aid training can also be delivered. These simple solutions can lower the spread of malaria, diarrhoea, skin infections and other diseases to protect people against not only the current climate but also a changing one. A Solomon Islands Red Cross health promotion officer, dedicated Red Cross volunteers and a Ministry of Health officer run the programme in villages in North Malaita and the Weather Coast.
The activities are designed to appeal to all members of the village, young and old, men and women. People are separated into groups of men and women, so people feel comfortable talking, and the activities are picture-based so as not to exclude those who cannot read. Taba’a village chief George Gao said that since the Health Awareness Programme, people were starting to make better health choices, and learning how to keep a healthy environment. “Since the HAP training, people understand how to look after themselves and their families, which makes for a healthy community,” he said.
“It’s good to have Red Cross in the community. We’ve had a lot of problems, including health problems we’ve had to face, and we are getting through that. Red Cross helps us in our life. We appreciate what Red Cross has done for us.”
In marking World Health Day 2008, the Solomon Islands Red Cross Health Awareness Programme team is conducting many activities including health and disaster risk reduction activities on the artificial islands of Niuleni and Tauba in North Malaita.
As well as focusing on the Health Awareness Programme on Guadalcanal (Weather Coast) and Malaita (Taba’a, Malu’u), the teams at Solomon Islands Red Cross are focusing on the atoll islands and artificial islands that are most vulnerable to the negative impacts of the changing climate. In the future, Red Cross will consider expanding its health programme to other parts of the country. It is now time to act. SIRC is committed to work closely with all its partners to tackle the issue of climate change and its impact on other sectors, starting with health.

Written by George Baragamu (SIRC Disaster Risks Reduction/Climate Change officer) and picture by Amanda, Australian Red Cross Health Delegate now in Lau Lagoon.